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Are Your Salespeople Selling Naked?

By Ed Wallace

December 1, 2020

““Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s swimming naked.”—Warren Buffet

When the economy is good, salespeople don’t have to be all that skilled. They can get by being “transitionally” average because the tide of business is lifting everyone. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it impacted all sales organizations in one way or another. If a sales team tries to conduct business using past methods and outdated value propositions, they are going to flounder and quickly be washed out to sea.

The new normal for sales is selling virtually, using Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms. The problem is that most salespeople have not been trained to optimize virtual selling techniques or in how to build relationships virtually. So, they really are selling naked.

Having assessed more than 2 million salespeople over the last 30 years, the data clearly shows about 60% of once-face-to-face salespeople are now struggling without virtual sales skills training and coaching.

If a company hasn’t trained its sales force and updated their website or internet presence within the last 12 months, they are exposing their sales force, just as in Warren Buffett’s example. They are forced to sell naked.

The Market Response to COVID-19

The market disruption the pandemic caused is much different from past market challenges leaders have faced. In the past, an event occurred, it was over, and organizations adapted.

With COVID-19, the challenges and uncertainty have not ended. In fact, McKinsey & Co. recently shared the following: “Over 79% of companies are preparing to behave as they are now for 12 months after the pandemic ends.”

However, the current health and financial crisis presents a unique opportunity to get ahead of the competition and become a leader in the packaging industry. Your packaging customers, like you, are facing challenges unlike anything they have experienced before. Current customers and prospects are looking for help. Our suggestion: Double down on contacting your current customers and strengthen those relationships.

Most salespeople were getting only 45% of the potential from their customers prior to the crisis. That number has likely been reduced due to the need to shift to virtual relationship development.

When COVID-19 first hit, AICC quickly reacted, and we delivered online training covering topics such as virtual selling, building virtual relationships, and social selling in a digital world. More than 500 AICC members participated in these webinars, and the recordings can be accessed through your AICC education profile.

Try not to outreach—just call to make a sale, but strategically strive to build relationships. We encourage salespeople to be invested in serving their customers with market and application insights that buyers can’t find on websites. One outcome of COVID-19 is the acceleration of sales reps to becoming respected advisors to their clients.

Going After New Business

It is imperative to continue to talk to new prospects, as well. Take the time to conduct strong discovery calls and offer solutions to problems that customers are facing now. They will become loyal customers in the future.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, almost 50% of buyers reported that their biggest challenge is supply chain disruptions. Maybe you always wanted to sell XYZ Corp., but the competitor gave them a fair price and good service. What if that buyer is struggling right now, looking for a packaging supplier like your firm?

Virtual sales calls have become such an important part of any sales operation that we have a few tips on how to improve selling techniques using today’s technology.

Value, Value, Value

First, your salespeople must be equipped with a current value proposition that speaks to the various buyer personas they are in contact with.

If you have not updated your value proposition in the last 90 days, your salespeople are selling naked.

Here’s a simple three-step formula to develop value propositions:

  1. Contain a clear statement.
  2. Understand the customer perspective.
  3. Deliver a benefit in regard to needs:
    1. Increases
    2. Decreases
    3. Eliminates

Do Your Homework

Second, pre-call planning is a must. Do your homework before conducting a virtual business call, and have a concrete reason why your customer or prospect will receive value speaking with you.

Use LinkedIn, Google, and the internet to research the company’s core business. Read their reviews, study their quarterly financial reports, and learn the key players in the business. And when you call, have an idea to offer or an area of the business to discuss. Ask yourself these questions, too: How can I help this business? What is the value proposition that I could offer this business?

People want to conduct business with people who can help them with a solution or offer an idea to improve their operation and profitability. Be that salesperson! With the amount of information available about every business, it is a relatively easy task to learn about a particular business in order to compose a list of questions and concerns. Prospective clients are searching for a respected advisor, someone who has been around, understands their challenges, and has a solution to their problems.

If your salespeople cannot explain how your product or service will impact the customers’ bottom line, your salespeople are selling naked.

Video or Traditional?

Third, determine when a video call might be more appropriate than a phone call. We believe that if the call is for a simple follow-up or to stay in touch, then a traditional phone call should suffice. If you want to include data on a slide or pictures of a new product, then the video call is the preferred method. We recommend Zoom calls to build relationships and trust.

If your salesperson is not trained on what mode to use to contact customers based on the circumstance, your salespeople are selling naked.

‘Worthy Intent’

Fourth, approach every interaction with worthy intent. In the bestselling book Business Relationships That Last, the critical role of having worthy intent to help and serve your clients in building relationships is discussed. The concept of worthy intent begins with a mindset of wanting to serve your clients and help them solve their problems.

If your salespeople are dialing for dollars trying to hit their sales quotas and not understanding customers and having worthy intent to serve them, your salespeople are selling naked.

In Your Customers’ Shoes

Fifth (we’ll sum it up in one word): empathy. In our training, we suggest that with virtual selling in a pandemic, salespeople must lead with empathy. Or to put it another way, focus on people first, and products and services second.

Understand Your Customer Needs Today

We’ve talked about the “voice of the customer,” in which a team actually calls packaging customers and asks them questions to identify customer satisfaction and more. The following are examples of questions to consider: Why do customers buy from you? Why don’t customers buy from you? How has your customers’ buying process changed in the last 90 days?

In general, what many organizational leaders want to know today is: How do you like virtual sales? Are you having a good experience? How do you like my website?

Through research, we have found that companies that were early adapters and used virtual sales calls have had very positive feedback from their customers and discovered they prefer using virtual sales calls. Furthermore, more than 60% of customers preferred virtual sales calls. They had been disillusioned with normal face-to-face sales calls for several years but didn’t realize there was an alternative.

Millennials especially are more adept at using e-commerce sites. They want answers fast, and an informative website is the perfect answer for today’s business generation, which needs help and wants answers now!

Social Selling and Prospecting

LinkedIn can be a very powerful tool for salespeople. It is not just a search engine for your next job. It is the perfect vehicle for building relationships with CEOs and managers looking for information.

If you have not conducted voice of the customer research in the last 90 days and updated your marketing—you guessed it—your salespeople are selling naked.

Sales Skills Training

If you want to drive a salesperson nuts, make them take training they don’t need. We recommend a prescriptive training process. First, we must determine where the sales team’s skills are today. For example, most sales teams have strong skills in product presentations and product application knowledge.

With more than 50% of salespeople having never received sales skills training, we should not be surprised that many sales teams need help closing, selling on value and not price, and negotiating. Approximately 76% of buyers have received negotiations training. Buyers have time, and they’re applying negotiations tactics, and salespeople often reduce costs and margins just to keep the business.

If you have not provided sales skills training to your salespeople and not trained them how to build virtual relationships, your salespeople are selling naked.

Building Virtual Relationships

In a study of senior executives, 89% said building relationships with their customers is critical to their success, but only 24% had a process in place to help their salespeople.

The Relational Capital Group developed courses and workshops to help salespeople understand how to build virtual relationships. The following are some of the insights from those sessions:

    • Locate the Relational GPS® (goals, passions, and struggles) of each contact.
    • Build relational capital by understanding how to build credibility, display integrity, and be authentic.
    • Think about relationships in three dimensions:
      1. Does the customer display acquaintance behaviors toward me?
      2. Are we working together as peers?
      3. Do we ever advise each other when working together?

If you have not trained your salespeople in how to build virtual business relationships, your sales team is selling naked.

Where Are You Now?

When business was strong and customers were ordering, many of the sales skills, systems, and process gaps were under the surface. We occasionally had waves of concern, but we were so busy.

When COVID-19 hit, the tide of business went out for many organizations, and gaps became very apparent and needed to be strategically filled with training and coaching.

Is your sales team selling naked today? Are you losing orders you should have won? Are your once-face-to-face salespeople struggling to conduct virtual sales calls and build virtual relationships? Do you have the right people with the right skills in the right roles today?

We suggest you quickly assess the sales transaction data you have over the last several months, quickly capture the voice of your customers, and clearly understand their challenges and how they want to buy and assess your sales teams’ skills, process, and systems. Quickly fill any gaps you may discover.

Market-leading sales teams will strategically leverage the above insights and not only survive, but also thrive today and in the future.

Mark Roberts is CEO of OTB Solutions.





Ed Wallace is CEO and chief relationship officer at The Relational Capital Group.